From ghosts to crowds to crashing waves: The scariest opening holes in golf

Not every first hole eases players into the round.

Many great golf architects from the days of Donald Ross to the modern era of Tom Doak have made statements, either in books or interviews, that the first hole shouldn't be overly difficult.

The truth is the rules of golf architecture were made to be broken. Not every first hole is a walk in the park. Last year around Halloween, Golf Advisor named golf's 18 scariest holes on public courses in America. This year, we've searched the globe to find the scariest first holes in golf.

No matter how many range balls you hit, stepping onto the first tee at these 10 courses will get the jitter juices flowing.

Old Course at St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland

You've dreamed your whole life for this moment. Can you handle the emotion of it all? The 376-yard par 4 at the Old Course at St. Andrews -- called "Burn" -- should be easy, except your mind gets in the way. Spectators. Jet lag. Nerves. They all leave some golfers gasping for air. Thankfully, even a dribbler off the tee box will find the widest fairway in golf. The burn protecting the green is probably the biggest obstacle to making par.

Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, Calif.

If your hands aren't shaking the first time you walk onto the first tee at Pebble Beach Golf Links, you're not human. Nerves make the fairway seem a little narrower and the crowd watching a little larger. The 377-yard par 4 couldn't be gentler, however. It doglegs softly right, demanding only a 3-wood or hybrid to set up a straightforward approach shot.

Old Course at Ballybunion Golf Club, Ballybunion, Ireland

The graveyard on this famous 408-yard par 4 shouldn't be scary at all. It's not like a bunch of zombies will rise up and attack. The cemetery, located just to the right of the first tee at the Old Course at Ballybunion Golf Club, shouldn't be in play, although it's certainly in your head. The ideal line is a fade off of the two pot bunkers up the left side.

Machrihanish Golf Club, Machrihanish, Scotland

Holy beach, Batman! That's all your eyes can see on "The Battery," possibly the best opening hole in golf. The 436-yard par 4 at Machrihanish Golf Club runs adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean, forcing players to tempt fate right out of the gate. Those who bite off more of the carry over the beach than they can handle will end up on the sand, staring at a double bogey or worse.

Spyglass Hill Golf Club, Pebble Beach, Calif.

One of the hardest holes on one of the hardest courses on the PGA Tour kicks off this bucket-list round. The 595-yard par 5 at Spyglass Hill Golf Club -- called "Treasure Island" -- starts at an elevated tee in the Del Monte Forest with distant views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay on a clear day. As the narrow fairway drops downhill, swinging left, the green comes into focus. So does the amazing backdrop of the sand dunes and ocean. Three mammoth bunkers frame the approach.

Tobacco Road Golf Club, Sanford, N.C.

Wool sweater ✅ First out ✅ Sun on the horizon ✅ #tobaccoroadgolf #seamusgolf #grumpy

A photo posted by Martha Hudson (@wickedgolfer59) on

The late Mike Strantz, who passed away from cancer, was the ultimate maverick as an architect. This par-5, 558-yard opener at Tobacco Road Golf Club introduces the madness of what might be the wildest design ever conceived. The blind tee shot must find safe passage through a narrow neck between high dunes. Up ahead, a second hourglass-shaped pinch in the fairway guards the path to the green.

Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, England

The 426-yard par 4 played as the third hole in the 2014 Open Championship. Amateurs who play Royal Liverpool Golf Club aren't lucky enough to receive a two-hole warm-up. The landing zone of this sharp dogleg right is flanked by out of bounds on one side and the clubhouse on the other. The green is protected by a swale on the safer left side away from the out of bounds close on the right.

Ardglass Golf Club, County Down, Northern Ireland

What isn't scary about the opening 335-yard par 4 at Ardglass Golf Club? You're teeing off just steps from a haunted 13th-century castle, reported to be the oldest clubhouse in the world. The hole climbs skyward along one of the largest water hazards in golf, the Irish Sea. Hook it or tug it left and your ball might ping pong in the black rocks of the seaside cliffs before sinking like the Titanic. Bail out right, and an unsuspecting member walking down the adjacent 18th fairway could be in harm's way. Often, the approach appears blind to a narrow, elevated green surrounded by mounding and rock outcroppings. You've got plenty of excuses if things go awry -- no driving range, jet lag -- but nobody cares.

True Blue Golf Plantation, Pawleys Island, S.C.

Mike Strantz strikes again. The first is the hardest handicap hole at True Blue, a par 5 of extraordinary length (624 yards) and challenge. A waste bunker runs up the entire left side. An imposing bunker complex on the right side signals the dogleg to the left. Don't even think about going for it in two. Weak approaches sink in a small stream fronting a tricky plateau green or bury in a nasty bunker that requires stairs to reach the bottom.

White Witch Golf Course, St. James, Jamaica

Pray the ghost of Annie Palmer -- the legendary White Witch who supposedly still haunts the 4,000-acre Rose Hall estate -- won't interfere with your backswing. The first hole at White Witch, a sweeping par 5 of 550 yards, is hard enough. The glorious view of the Caribbean Sea from the elevated tee might distract you from seeing the menacing bunkers and thick jungle that litters the landing area below. Even with a good poke, the climb back up toward the green is long and arduous. Palmer supposedly murdered a few husbands before slaves revolted and killed her. Don't let this hole murder your round before it starts.

Editor's Note: Have you played a scary first hole? Let us know where in the comments below.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
6 Comments
Default User Avatar
Commented on

#1 at Bethpage Black when you have everyone watching can be pretty stressful and "Scary!

Staff
Commented on

Keep the comments and suggestions coming. Maybe I'll expand the list.

Default User Avatar
Commented on

Better add the opening hole on the Judge Course at the RTJ Trail complex in Prattville, AL.  200 foot drop with a lake on one side and a swamp on the other.  A real knee knocker.

Default User Avatar
Commented on

Great call on including Tobacco Road. By far the most visually intimidating hole I ever played. Trust you distance. Number 1 at Pine Valley is brutal as well

Default User Avatar
Commented on

I suggest you check out the Robert Trent Jones Course in Prattville, AL - "Capitol Hill" (just South of Montgomery).  Capital Hill has three top caliber 18 hole layouts, but the one which deserves attention is the course is the one the Ladies on the LPGA plays, it is THE JUDGE.  For open play - it okay, but for tourneys it can be a frightening hole.

Default User Avatar
Commented on

The first hole at Poppy HIlls in the Del Monte forest is at least as tough as the first hole at neighboring Spyglass. This uphill, dogleg right is about as visually intimidating as they come off the tee. If you jerk one a little right, you are OB in the forest. If you yank one left, you are in a stand of tall pines with the only option to punch out. The approach shot to the green is just as intimidating. You feel like the hole is going to fall off the earth on the right side, and no chance to roll one up with bunkers  guarding the green. Bogey feels pretty good here.

More from the author
1 Min Read
October 18, 2021
Golf can feel cruel when the ball hangs on the lip of the hole. It's even more so when a penalty's involved.
3 Min Read
October 18, 2021
The opening of Hay's Place beside the new Tiger Woods-designed par-3 course brings a new energy to golf's most famous resort.
3 Min Read
October 14, 2021
The wild and wavy North Course complements the Australian Sandbelt look of the acclaimed South Course near Oakland's airport.
4 Min Read
October 14, 2021
Comfort stations have become the new norm at exclusive private clubs like The Summit, which makes its PGA Tour debut this weekend.
5 Min Read
October 6, 2021
Kauai has fewer than half the courses of Oahu, Maui and the Big Island, but the quality is top notch.
3 Min Read
October 4, 2021
The number of publicly accessible tournament venues will shrink during the 2021-22 PGA Tour schedule as the majors move to private clubs.
Popular
12 Images
October 11, 2021
This Albuquerque gem is one of the tournament capitals of collegiate golf.
21 Images
September 30, 2021
This collection of photos sent in by reviewers might be the best we've ever seen.
7 Min Read
September 30, 2021
From the largest elevation drop to the wildest greens and deepest bunker, all these U.S. courses take the game to the edge.
7 Min Read
October 7, 2021
We found the 10 cities where it's easiest to score a tee time.
Load More
Now Reading
From ghosts to crowds to crashing waves: The scariest opening holes in golf